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Which Laws Apply to Me?

Which laws apply to me? State or federal?

Your claim may be covered by California state law, federal law or both. It is important to know which laws apply to your claim because each system provides different legal rights and imposes different responsibilities.

Knowing which laws apply to you and your individual situation is one of the first steps in making sure you get the help you need. Usually, if you were hired in California, lived in California at the time of your injury or got hurt in California, then California law will apply to your claim.

There are several Federal Workers' Compensation laws. The Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA) applies to employees of the federal government — U.S. Postal employees, for example. The Federal Liabilities Act (FELA) applies to railroad employees. The Jones Act applies to merchant seamen.

The Longshore & Harbor Workers' Compensation Act applies to people working in the maritime occupations such as longshoring, shipbuilding or harbor construction/repair. The Longshore Act also applies to people injured working outside California state territorial waters aboard fixed oil drilling platforms (Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act). Other employees may be covered if they were civilian employees of Non-appropriated Fund Instrumentalities (post exchanges, military bases, etc.) of the Armed Forces (Non-Appropriated Fund Instrumentalities Act) or if they were injured while working for federal contractors outside the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii (Defense Base Act).

Knowing which laws apply to you is important because each set of laws provides different benefits and imposes different responsibilities. Benefits, for example, are payable at different rates. As of October 1, 2005 the Longshore Act provides for a maximum compensation rate of $1,073.64 per week. At present the maximum worker's compensation rate provided by California law is $840 per week. Additionally, while compensation in most Longshore Act cases is payable "for the duration of the wage loss," potentially for life, state compensation benefits are usually paid out over a much shorter time. It is also usually easier to get medical treatment from the physician of your choice or to change doctors in Longshore Act cases. If, on the other hand, your employer refuses to pay benefits and you have no income, or if you are not receiving medical treatment, you may be able to get quicker results in state court, establish an income and medical treatment, and later return to the United States Department of Labor to seek additional benefits at potentially greater rates.

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